Day 4 – Halong Bay and back to Hanoi

26 Feb

Well, the sleep happened.  Mostly due to the open windows and the air conditioning heating being turned off. A less than luxurious breakfast followed, in keeping with the hotel.  Julian, in particular, had trouble drinking any of the available liquids, due to their vile nature.

We headed off promptly at 8am without a repeat of “biscuit gate” from previous mornings – where the Oreos mysteriously disappeared from the room without being paid for.

Heading towards the dock in the bus confirmed my suspicions from yesterday that this is indeed the Blackpool of Vietnam.  The port itself was filled with tourists fitting our description and a whole bunch of Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese tourists as well.

Climbing careful aboard we settled into apparent luxury, with the large boat to ourselves. The crew were very careful to keep us confined as we left the dockside. This was mostly due to there being very little between the short boat sides and the open water. And then the race was on.

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Every boat in the place made a beeline for the bay.  It was like Dunkirk all over again. Apparently. Eventually the crew let us go topside – catching the nautical terms you know! – although the captain had to make us sit down as he couldn’t see where he was going. This was highly important as there were lots of other boats and large limestone rocks all over the place.  You would have thought UNESCO would have tidied the place up a bit before someone declared this one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Saying that, it was genuinely cloudy and we were all hoping that the sun would come out.  Of course, it did as soon as we stepped off the boat 6 hours later.

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In the meantime we had time to admire a very mystical landscape, spoiled only slightly by the amount of human produced rubbish floating in the water.

We stopped first at a cave system on one of the limestone islands – the Surprise Cave. This was colourfully lit and bigger on the inside than you could imagine with several large caverns. There was of course the usual features in the rock that someone imagined were there – like a monkey climbing a coconut tree. Half the group had trouble picturing that. However the phallic symbol lit in red produced no end of tittering from even the oldest group members.

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Exiting the cave, via the Vietnamese style gift shop, we headed back to the junk and took time to shop amongst the many small boats that were flogging everything you could think of.

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Our second stop of the day was to a beach on one of the islands. There was an option to climb to a viewpoint on the top which Vinh told me was 117 steps.  He lied.  444 to be precise. And he couldn’t have known about the elbowing battle with the Korean grannies, monks and nuns that was also to take place.  Each step was not really big enough for two but up and down were trying to happen at the same time. At the top, without making any sizist comments, we still had a problem seeing anything due to the throng of people, and the relentless cloud.

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On the way down at precisely 12:17pm an unknown accident happened to my camera lens causing it to become scratched. This resulted in the camera becoming unusable and I resorted to using the phone instead.

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Back on the boat, avoiding the beach, we were treated to white linen tablecloths, hot towels and a never ending array of dishes for our lunch.  Fish, squid, chicken, spring rolls and the “non chicken dish”, which was a bit tough and could well have been dog. Tasty though.

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We ate our way back to shore and arrived full up. Unfortunately a 5 hour bus trip back to Hanoi was waiting for us. We stopped off in the same place as the day before, where I managed an ice cream and some cookies.  Pringles do two different flavours here – “Cheesy Cheese” (for when it isn’t cheesy enough) and “salt and seaweed, which were actually quite nice.

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Continuing past the rice fields where various farmers were tending their crops, we arrived back at the same hotel in Hanoi to collect our bags and make use of two day rooms for a quick shower and tidy up.  We had 3 hours until we were to depart for the night train.

Vinh volunteered to show me where to buy a new camera and Jackie, Vinh and I jumped in a taxi to the lake where there was a large camera shop. $270 later and I had a camera I could continue with.  They were unable to fix the previous one, but hopefully I’ll be able to once home.

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Malaysian Jackie then went to buy some weasel coffee which is where the coffee beans have been eaten by the weasel and then collected from its pooh. She tried some in the shop – very smooth but bitter. She ended up buying a reluctant 1/4kg. The golden weasel was avoided due to chocolate having been added.  Not sure at which stage. Interesting thought though.

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Walking back to the hotel, we stopped for some fresh mango, mangosteen and bananas. Also popped back to the bakery for some bread for breakfast. Bought another bottle of water from a small shop and the man asked if I had shopped there before as he remembered me from 2 days before.  Very friendly people.

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Durian fruit - the smelly one

Back in the hotel foyer, a battle zone had erupted with repacking going aplenty. The two day rooms had still not been fully used by all those wishing a shower, so Jackie and I joined others in the restaurant next door for some quick food. At the third attempt I have still not managed to order a banana smoothie. I did however get an orange snow (sorbet) and a rice burger – rice top and bottom instead of a bun – and a plate of chips egged on by Karen.

Ran out  of the restaurant with only 30 minutes left to have a shower to find that Vinh was the last man still in. Found that the 5 previous men had left the place in a bit of a state and that the shower head was stuck at Vietnamese height.

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Managed to make it back in time, without repacking and we all threw our bags into the bus to head to the train station. Our first class sleeping coach was easily found, even after finally finishing off the glutunous wine from 2 days ago. Julian also apparently managed a beer and a whisky in the station as well, and his Welsh accent was beginning to show through.

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Dave and I, as the only two solo males, had gallantly volunteered to be the two that shared with the strangers, as there were 18 of us for 4-bed cabins. At first this was a couple from Prague, but they soon persuaded us to change to share with a couple from Cardiff/Australia.

The different classes on board ranged from sleeping on the floor, in the aisle, on a folding chair in the aisle, on a train seat, standing and then 6 berth and 4 berth cabins.

Several beers from Dave later and a trip to the end of the train (the restaurant car) from me, we settled in for a hot night onboard the Reunification Express. Hopefully we will be able to sleep, and most importantly get off at the correct stop in the morning.

They also had a charging point, or this post would not have been possible.

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2 Responses to “Day 4 – Halong Bay and back to Hanoi”

  1. Gillian February 28, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    Looking for a “Like” button for “Cheesey cheese and Salt & seaweed”

  2. Gede Prama March 2, 2014 at 3:36 am #

    I am happy to read it. Have a beautiful day

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